Construction delays, am I right? Thus far, it sure feels like Dipoto has been more focused on “under budget” than “on time,” as the completion date for this “re-imagining” kept getting pushed back. I was willing to grant them an extra year given that 2020 was, you know, 2020, but we’re supposed to be done by now. It feels unjust to be stuck either languishing in anger and self-pity or making justifications for why things aren’t as bad as they seem.
Let’s start with the facts: the second Franchy Cordero’s grand slam cleared the fence, the Mariners sunk to 17-25, 10 games back in the division with three teams ahead of us, and 5.5 games back of the third Wild Card spot, tied with Baltimore (Baltimore!) with four other teams in front of us too. Simply to get to .500 on the year, the team will have to go 64-56. To get to 90 wins (what’s usually the rough cutoff for the playoffs), they’ll have to go 73-47. Fangraphs has the team’s playoff odds at 6.6%.
If you’re feeling horrible, you’re not alone. If you’re a Lookout Landing reader, you probably followed the team through the rebuild and feel like you’ve earned some winning baseball. (And if you’re new, welcome! Hell of an orientation this month has been.) Part of what’s been awful about the tough early schedule is that it’s so quickly zapped the enthusiasm building around the team. The rug’s been pulled out from under us, and it feels lousy. Mariners fans are psychologically primed for losing, and when the team gets swept in four, losing the last one on a walkoff grand slam, it’s tempting to think of these guys as the Same Old Mariners.
I don’t speak for the whole masthead, and given how heightened all of Mariner fandom’s emotions are right now, I expect we’ll get differing takes in the coming days. But for me, I’m focusing on this fact: in 2019, the Nationals started 19-31 and won the World Series. That’s hardly ancient history. This is a bad situation, but it ain’t over. Both halves of that sentence are true. The Mariners’ remaining schedule includes 10 more home games than road games and all 19 games against Oakland. Jesse Winker’s expected stats are still great. Robbie Ray is back up to 94-95 on his fastball. Ken Giles is throwing off a mound.
If you’ll forgive the self-indulgence, I’m going to extensively quote myself for a minute, from my recap of the home opener:
Hope requires letting yourself be vulnerable. You can’t help but worry that you’ll end up with your ass covered in dirt, grumbling “Good grief.” But the alternative, I submit, is worse. Indeed cynicism is the coward’s take. The cynic is not subject to his own smug superiority, insisting that he’s just being realistic. But it’s poison. Simon and Garfunkel warn us of refusing to disturb the slumber of the feelings that have died, ironically singing, “If I never loved, I never would have cried.”
Now if you were tempted, I’d understand. The life of a Mariners fan is pretty regular disappointment. My psyche carries the same lessons that Gotty confessed have led to “learned helplessness,” and there’s room to still feel those feelings too. Because it’s a risk to allow yourself to believe that the Mariners won’t, as Sally sings, be “a loser anymore like the last time and the time before” or even, in the Mariners’ case, the time before that.
I don’t think our asses are covered in dirt just yet. To be sure, I am adjusting my expectations for 2022 because regardless of the reasons for optimism, the games that have already been played still count and being eight games under .500 changes what’s required for a successful season. But by the same token, I’m not abandoning hope, because there are too many of those reasons for optimism (which have been outlined here before and which we’ll get into more later).
The flip side of getting into a hole early when the team’s true talent is a bit better than they’ve played—I’m sorry, but no matter how cynical you are, this is not a 66-win team—is that they should be making up ground for the rest of the summer. I’d rather watch them make up a deficit than watch a lead crumble away. When they came up just short last year, I still felt like I’d gotten what I came for.
And, look, maybe they don’t right the ship. So let me speak directly to those who can’t bring themselves to keep hoping. You’ve got every right to be sad and frustrated and even angry, to feel like Jerry has lied to you. But 2022 going badly is not the end for this core. It’s the beginning. Having LoGi, Ty, J.P., and Julio locked up for years is still a better situation than the team has been in since, what? 2003? Even in the 2014-2018 run with four stars on the roster, there was no room in the budget to add and nothing close on the farm. So even if you’re ready to throw in the towel on 2022, next year is closer than you think. And in the mean time, there’s still so much about this team that’s worth watching: mercifully, even as they lose, they’re a group that’s easy to root for.
One of the best things about baseball is that with 162 three-hour games, it almost has to be about the journey rather than the destination. Baseball isn’t March Madness—it forces you to be along for the ride. For this reason, I’ve always thought that “Mariners” was the perfect name for a baseball team. Even if you’re counting 2022 as being over, there are worse fates for a sports fan than watching Julio Rodríguez every day for the next 120 games.
But still, the 2019 Nationals started 19-31. So why not hope? It’s free.